Skip to main content

Corporate Social Responsibility

Rights and Freedoms

Business and human rights

What's new?

Four fact sheets to help make human rights part of your core business.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has developed four short fact sheets to help Australian companies meet their responsibility to respect the human rights of those people impacted by their activities.

The fact sheets set out basic steps Australian companies should take to integrate human rights considerations into their everyday business practices.

Fact sheet 1 explains how human rights are relevant to Australian companies and sets out the business case for addressing human rights. It also provides links to practical tools to help companies conduct human rights impact assessments and integrate human rights policy, practice and reporting into business operations.

Fact sheets 2, 3 and 4 focus on specific human rights issues and practical tools relevant to:

To receive further updates, sign up to the Commission’s employer email list at:

What do human rights have to do with Australian businesses?

Human rights are about promoting and protecting the values of respect, dignity and equality for every person, irrespective of their race, sex, religion, political opinion, disability, sexuality, social status, age or any other characteristic. Human rights are relevant, in various ways, to the economic, social and environmental aspects of business activities.

While the primary responsibility for the enforcement of international human rights standards lies with governments, there is a growing acceptance internationally and in Australia that companies also have an important role to play.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has recognised that, while the primary duty to protect and promote human rights lies with national governments, corporations also have a distinct responsibility to respect human rights.

In 2008, an Australian Senate motion emphasised the government’s responsibility to ‘foster a corporate culture respectful of human rights at home and abroad’. This speaks to the Australian Government’s responsibility to make and enforce laws and policies which ensure that companies do not breach human rights.

However, an Australian company that complies with Australian laws (or the local laws of a country in which the company operates), does not necessarily satisfy its responsibility to respect human rights. Companies should use a due diligence process to assess and address the human rights impacts of their business activities, and provide remedies when human rights breaches occur.

For further information, see the Commission's four fact sheets setting out basic steps Australian companies should take to integrate human rights considerations into their everyday business practices.

For further information on the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, see the 2008 report of the United Nations Special Representative on business and human rights, Protect, Respect and Remedy: a Framework for Business and Human Rights.

Past projects and publications

Publications and speeches:

Why doing the 'rights' thing is good for business. This opinion piece by the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Catherine Branson QC, was published in Ethical Investor magazine (October-November 2009 issue).

Human Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility. This speech was delivered by Graeme Innes AM, former Human Rights Commissioner at the Everyday People, Everyday Rights Human Rights Conference hosted by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission in Melbourne on 16 March 2009.

Raising the Bar: Corporate Social Responsibility and Human Rights. This speech was delivered by Graeme Innes AM, former Human Rights Commissioner at the annual national conference of the Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility in Sydney on 20 February 2008.

Corporate Social Responsibility and Human Rights. This short paper, published in 2008, addresses some basic questions regarding corporate social responsibility and the role of Australian companies in respecting human rights.

Past projects:

A range of past Commission projects have touched on various aspects of corporate responsibility and the links between business activities and human rights. Some examples include:

  • Good Practice; Good Business – a set of resources which provide practical guidance for businesses on eliminating discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
  • Access to electronic commerce – a project aimed at improving the accessibility of electronic financial services for older Australians and Australians with a disability, including through the adoption of voluntary standards for the Australian banking industry.

In addition, many aspects of the Commission’s everyday work relate to the links between business activities and human rights. For example, this includes:

  • considering applications made by companies for specific exemptions under anti-discrimination laws
  • intervening in court proceedings involving human rights complaints lodged against companies.

Useful links

Australian resources:

International resources: